Overhaul of sector will be complex – and expensive
THE elaborate promises made just weeks ago to ensure better quality control and monitoring of pre-school facilities provided some reassurance to parents after their trust in these services was severely eroded.
The disturbing television images of children being mistreated in a number of creches helped to graphically highlight gaps in the system which the Irish Independent and other newspapers had previously uncovered through extensive investigations.
Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald was rightly held to account for many failures, including what appears to be an overly indulgent inspection system, a failure to publish inspection reports, poor staff training and a low level of monitoring.
The range of pledges to reform was long because it needed to be. However, the logistics of publishing inspection reports online were underestimated and the process of requiring facilities to register before opening will also take longer than pledged in the heat of the recent controversy.
Until recently there was no uniform standard for inspection reports. One report could be lengthy and the other very brief.
Currently childcare providers only have to notify the HSE 28 days before opening. But the reality is that registration will cost the pre-schools and the HSE money. This is likely to be passed on to parents in higher fees.
A key area of weakness is the inadequate number of full-time pre-school inspectors who will be required to police this registration. There are just 44 and they have an average caseload of 126 facilities.
The overhaul of this sector is clearly going to prove complex, mainly because so little attention has been paid to it by authorities for so long.